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What is alabaster and what is it used for?

What is alabaster and what is it used for?

Alabaster is a compact and weak, white mineral composed of calcium carbonate.

With a Mohs classification of 1.5, this mineral is considered very low in terms of its hardness. So much so, that it can be scratched by fingernails and can easily dissolved by water.

Its name of Greek origin means “a vessel without handles.” This is because in ancient times, the most frequent use of alabaster was to make perfume vessels without handles. In turn, throughout history, there is a wide variety of artistic works that have been made with this material. The most significant is the statue of the Egyptian Queen Tiye.

What types of alabaster exist?

·      Bonded Alabaster

The different varieties of this type of alabaster:

  • Limestone alabaster from Aracena: It is found in Andalusia. This material is hazy white, pure and fine, with features of aurora yellow.
  • White limestone
  • The yellowish white or Oriental alabaster: it is white with touches of red.
  • From Siena: almost transparent, it has a honey color.

·      Veined or flowery alabaster

This marble is also known as onyx marble of the ancients. It can be divided into several types:

  • From Malaga: waxy yellow
  • In Sicily we can find four different types: Saguna: it is dark brown with light streaks, Monreale: bright red streaks with different yellow bands, Caputo: yellow and white streaks, and finally, In Monte Pellegrino: yellow and dark black bands.
  • From Malta: we find light yellow colors with white or black, brown and white.
  • From Corsica: they are light or dark yellow.
  • From Paris: they are fawn with dirty white streaks.

·      stained Alabaster

  • It is found in the Languedoc region and is reddish brown with spots of various sizes.

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Where can alabaster be found in Spain and how is it extracted?

Zaragoza is the main extraction site of alabaster in the world. One of the main alabaster reserves can be found on the banks of the Ebro River. The town of Albalate del Arzobispo is where different quarries are located and the development of alabaster is promoted through the CIDA "Comprehensive Center for the Development of Alabaster”.

The extraction is generally done in the open, with systems that are not aggressive to protect the integrity of the material, both its homogeneity and integrity, as well as its crystallinity and natural grain.

The photograph shown below is an alabaster quarry.

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Rock&Tools participated in the ICRE stage event in Albalate del Arzobispo

In Spain, events are organized which enables participants to work with alabaster material. At Rock&Tools we had the pleasure of being able to collaborate in the Stage event organized in Albalate del Arzobispo (ICRE Stage) to work with alabaster with total creative freedom for four days. This event took place during Holy Week and was organized by the CIDA (Integral Center for the Development of Alabaster).

We also had the pleasure of having the company of great artists from the ICRE association in Barcelona together with the sculptor Jorge Egea, who oversaw the entire stay of the ICRE artists.

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Use of alabaster today

Currently, alabaster is generally used as a purely decorative stone. Being as it is so soft, it can be molded or carved into very elaborate and precise shapes. However, since it dissolves in water, it cannot be placed outside.

Being a translucent stone, alabaster also has been used in windows and in lampshades and other lighting products, generally combined with other materials.

The natural grain of the alabaster is what makes each piece “unique,” together with the craftsmanship and conceptual beauty, this material has become especially popular within interior design and garden decoration.

It is very important to note that any object containing alabaster is very delicate and must be treated carefully to prevent it from being damaged. That is why specialists recommend handling it only with gloves to avoid staining and scratching it and to clean with only a soft bristle brush.

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Alabaster curiosities

We end this article with a little fun fact: Did you know that alabaster was used in some medieval churches for windows? The most recent was the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Los Angeles, which was consecrated in 2002. The use of alabaster in windows prevents the panels from becoming opaque under the effect of heat.

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Is alabaster an element that you use professionally or as a hobby or are you just curious try it? Then do not hesitate to get in touch and the Rock & Tools team will advise you.

Last modified on: May 09, 2022

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